That Was Your Life: after 1,000 episodes, BBC closes the red book

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The Independent Online

The red book from This Is Your Life will be left to gather dust on the archive shelves. The BBC said yesterday that it was dropping the show after almost 50 years.

The decision ends a programme that ran for more than 1,000 episodes and featured some of the greatest stars of the 20th century, including Muhammad Ali, Bob Hope and Bobby Moore.

The show, hosted by Michael Aspel, has recently struggled to get the high calibre of guests it enjoyed in the past, and audiences have slipped to 3.5 million from the 20 million of its heyday 20 years ago.

Lorraine Heggessey, the BBC1 controller, said: "It's never easy to bring such a long-running show as This Is Your Life to an end, but I see this more as au revoir than goodbye."

This is Your Life was inspired by an American radio show and was first screened in Britain in 1955. It had an inauspicious start when its first secret guest - the footballer Stanley Matthews - was named in advance by the Daily Sketch. Eamonn Andrews, the show's original host, built a devoted audience, raiding the BBC costume department for an extraordinary range of disguises that enabled him to surprise his guests. He dressed up as an airline steward to catch out Shirley Bassey and pretended to be an astronaut to trick the astronomer Patrick Moore.

The BBC decided in 1964 that the show had run its course. Andrews persuaded Thames to make the programme for ITV, where it enjoyed its most successful years between 1969 and 1993.

Star guests included Joan Collins, Dudley Moore and Lord Mountbatten. Aspel took over in 1988 after Andrews died, and in 1994 the programme returned to BBC1.

The show has recently been criticised for hiring guests who had not reached middle age. Aled Jones, the choirboy turned television presenter, appeared on the programme in August.

But many of the stars of the programme's earlier years were only able to tell a fraction of their life stories. David Frost, who was surprised when Andrews disguised himself as a wine waiter in 1972, is still broadcasting more than 30 years later, as is Rolf Harris, who was a guest in 1971.

Certainly the red book was missing a few chapters when it featured Jeffrey Archer in January 1981, and when the show starred Gary Glitter in 1992.

But obituaries have been written before for This is Your Life.

Talkback Thames, the production company that makes the show, said it was in talks with other broadcasters.

A spokesman said: "This Is Your Life is an institution and one which the British public have enjoyed for almost 50 years. We respect the BBC's decision not to recommission the show but are actively talking to other broadcasters about it and are hopeful it will continue to delight audiences throughout the UK."


Greatest coup: Landing Muhammad Ali as guest for a Christmas Day special in 1978.

Jet-set moment: Eamonn Andrews dressing up as an airline steward to surprise Shirley Bassey in 1972.

Nasty surprise: Andrews approaching the author Richard Gordon in 1974 and being told to "piss off" on air.

Glory days past: Pulling in only 3.5 million viewers for the story of the former choirboy Aled Jones in August this year.